o/t: leisure reading in January

Overall, an enjoyable month’s reading — and surprisingly prolific, at least to me, bearing in mind that I’ve been working flat-out all month on various aspects of two books of my own scheduled for 2018 (of which more here anon).

The links are as usual to my scrappy Goodreads notes, some of which are shorter and even hastier than usual because . . . see first paragraph. (Did I mention that the final proofs of one of the forthcoming tomes went off by email at 12.30 last night? Why am I even out of bed yet? You may well ask.)



Fly-by-Night (1942)

On the run for a murder he didn’t commit!

vt Dangerous Holiday
US / 72 minutes / bw / Paramount Dir: Robert Siodmak Pr: Sol C. Siegel Scr: Jay Dratler, F. Hugh Herbert Story: Ben Roberts, Sidney Sheldon Cine: John Seitz Cast: Richard Carlson, Nancy Kelly, Albert Basserman, Miles Mander, Walter Kingsford, Martin Kosleck, Marion Martin, Oscar O’Shea, Mary Gordon, Edward Gargan, Clem Bevans, Arthur Loft, Michael Morris, Cy Kendall, Nestor Paiva, John Butler.

An escapade conceived very much in the style of Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps (1935), with which movie it shares a number of plot points. Again we have a hero who has to go on the run because suspected of murdering a man who has sought his aid, and again our hero ropes in an unwilling woman as accomplice (with romance as inevitable, further down the line, as in a Hallmark Christmas movie), and again there’s an espionage conspiracy to be foiled.

To say that Siodmak, whose second Hollywood movie this was, was no Hitchcock is the obvious trite comment, and a foolish one—as foolish as saying, equally truthfully, that Hitchcock was no Siodmak. The two directors each had his own strengths, and this one plays to Siodmak’s. The comedy and tension are very well integrated—that I laughed aloud several times didn’t mean I wasn’t on the edge of my seat at others—but what stood out most for me, in terms of the direction, was Continue reading

reblog: Le Jour se Lève and Film Noir

***Jean Gabin is a favorite of this site, as is French noir in general, and the same could be said for the blog B Noir Detour. Many thanks to the latter’s Salome Wilde for permission to reblog her splendid evaluation of 1939’s Le Jour se Lève.

B Noir Detour

le jour title

Every time I see a film starring Jean Gabin, I’m amazed anew. I love his acting style, the roles he plays, the directors he works with, and the artistic style of his films. Before yesterday, I’d seen and loved:

  • The Grand Illusion (1937)
  • La bête humaine (1938)
  • Moontide (1942)
  • Touchez Pas au Grisbi (1954)

When searching for Pepe le Moko (1937) — which I put on my Cinema Shame 2018 list of must-sees) — I found Le jour se lève (1939). And I am so glad I did. The film is a stunner in so many ways, from style and direction to acting, plot, and social message. Given that this is a noir blog, I’m organizing this review by elements of noir style.

Expressionism and the Noir Look

The sets for this film are stupendous. They have an expressionist feel, and it doesn’t surprise me that both the main street, featuring…

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A Portrait of Murder (1955 TVM)

“What a terrible way for a beautiful dame like that to die.”

vt Laura
US / 43 minutes / bw / CBS Dir: John Brahm Pr: Otto Lang Scr: Mel Dinelli Story: Laura (1943) by Vera Caspary Cine: Lloyd Ahern Cast: George Sanders, Dana Wynter, Robert Stack, Scott Forbes, Johnny Washbrook, Gloria Clark, Gordon Wynne, Robert Williams, Harry Carter.

Done as an episode of The 20th Century–Fox Hour, this is not so much a remake of Otto Preminger’s classic Laura (1944), which featured Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price, Judith Anderson and Dorothy Adams, as a re-adaptation of Caspary’s novel for the screen. There’s a visible (and visual) awareness of Preminger’s version, but really this is its own entity. Much of the Continue reading

Crown v. Stevens (1936)

“Ten million people in London, and it had to be you.”

UK / 66 minutes / bw / Warner Bros. First National Dir: Michael Powell Scr: Brock Williams Story: Third Time Unlucky (1935) by Laurence Meynell Cine: Basil Emmott Cast: Beatrix Thomson, Patric Knowles, Glennis Lorimer, Reginald Purdell, Allan Jeayes, Frederick Piper, Googie Withers, Mabel Poulton, Billy Watts, Davina Craig, Morris Harvey, Bernard Miles.

The title might make us assume this is a courtroom drama, but in fact this quota quickie—an important stop along the road for director Michael Powell’s early career—is a distinctly noirish piece. In one specific respect it appears to be echoed in Raoul Walsh’s THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT (1940), which had George Raft, Ann Sheridan, Humphrey Bogart and the immortal Ida Lupino as its stars.

Molly (Glennis Lorimer) and Chris (Patric Knowles) make a good team.

There are no comparable stars here, with the exceptions of Patric Knowles—who would soon go on to have a prominent Hollywood career, sometimes playing opposite his friend Errol Flynn—and of course Googie Withers (in a small role), plus Glennis Lorimer, whose short acting career (she died far too early) is eclipsed by the fact that she served as the young woman in the mocked-up version of Thomas Gainsborough’s portrait of Sarah Siddons used as an opening-credits logo by Gainsborough Studios.

Mamie (Mabel Poulton) dances close to Chris . . .

. . . but Joe Andrews (Billy Watts) is her true partner.

Naive paint-company clerk Chris Jansen (Knowles) believes himself in love with floozy Mamie (Poulton), and borrows an engagement ring on approval from Continue reading

Witness Chair, The (1936)

Inverted twist!

US / 64 minutes / bw / RKO Dir: George Nicholls Jr Scr: Rian James, Gertrude Purcell Story: Rita Weiman Cine: Robert de Grasse Cast: Ann Harding, Walter Abel, Douglass Dumbrille, Frances Sage, Moroni Olsen, Margaret Hamilton, Maxine Jennings, William Benedict, Paul Harvey, Murray Kinnell, Charles Arnt, Frank Jenks, Hilda Vaughn, Barlowe Borland, Fred Kelsey, Edward LeSaint.

There’s no way to discuss this very interesting B-movie intelligently without committing a major spoiler, so, if you’re one of those for whom spoilers are anathema, stop reading now.

Do be aware, though, that knowledge of the plot isn’t going to undermine your enjoyment of the movie in any way. While The Witness Chair is presented to us as a murder mystery/courtroom drama, in a sense it doesn’t really fit the bill as either. The movie has sufficient riches Continue reading

o/t: RIP, Peggy Cummins.

***Sad news, via The Hannibal 8. I must get out of the habit I’ve had for years, every time I saw the name Peggy Cummins, of smiling at the cheerful thought that she was still alive after all these years.

The Hannibal 8

Peggy Cummins (Augusta Margaret Diane Fuller)
(December 18, 1925 – December 29, 2017)

Peggy Cummins, who is absolutely incredible in one of my favorite films, Joseph H. Lewis’ Gun Crazy (1949), has passed away at 92. She’s in a couple other favorites — Jacques Tourneur’s Night Of The Demon (1957, Curse Of The Demon in the States) and Cy Enfield’s Hell Drivers (1957).

b111eab68b76e503d3e373ef54559281--simple-art-cummins John Dall, Peggy Cummins and Joseph H. Lewis on the Gun Crazy set.

Was just thinking the other day that Gun Crazy would be a great candidate for a Warner Archive Blu-ray. If it happens, it’s a shame she won’t be around for it.

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o/t: December’s leisure reading

And so another year circles to its end. I read eleven books during December (plus a couple of abandonments) and, although nothing blew me away, a couple came close and I enjoyed most of the rest.

The links go to my often rather scrappy Goodreads notes:

2017 has been a vile year on so many fronts it’s hard to tally them, and the destruction that’s been waged during it by our science- and reality-deficient overlords will redound for decades to come: our descendants are going to have to cope somehow with a severely damaged world. (My own book Corrupted Science — in a new edition nearly double the size of the 2007 one and coming in May — discusses a lot of this.) If this weren’t too much of a hostage to fortune, I’d say 2018 could hardly be worse than its predecessor. As it is, I guess we just have to hope for the best, while working each in our own way to improve things.

Gloomy, I know. Even so, here’s hoping the coming year brings you joy.

Happy Hogmanay!

Repeat Performance (1947)

Can we change the past by reliving it?

US / 92 minutes / bw / Bryan Foy Productions, Eagle–Lion Dir: Alfred Werker Pr: Aubrey Schenck Scr: Walter Bullock Story: Repeat Performance (1942) by William O’Farrell Cine: Lew W. O’Connell Cast: Louis Hayward, Joan Leslie, Virginia Field, Tom Conway, Richard Basehart, Natalie Schafer, Benay Venuta, Ilka Gruning.

Every now and then one comes across a movie that ought to have the status of at the very least a minor classic yet has somehow been largely forgotten. Repeat Performance is such a movie. It tells a highly intriguing, emotionally involving story and, in so doing, hardly puts a foot wrong.

It’s a few minutes before the start of 1947 and the streets of New York are full of merry celebrants. In her luxury apartment nearby, however, famous Broadway actress Sheila Page (Leslie) stands over the corpse of husband Barney (Hayward); in her hand is the gun with which she’s just shot him. What could have brought her to this pass?

There’s a thunder of fists on the apartment door and a chorus of shouts from beyond it. Casting the gun aside, Sheila flees—out into the streets and to a club where her friend, the poet William Williams (Basehart, whose first screen role this was) is drinking with actress Bess Michaels (Venuta) and English playwright Paula Costello (Field). Sheila tells the sympathetic William what she’s done, and he suggests they go ask the advice of Broadway producer John Friday (Conway), a kind and generous man who’s an angel in more senses than one . . . especially to Sheila, whom he clearly adores from, figuratively speaking at least, afar.

Paula (Virginia Field) tries to pretend she and Sheila are all pals together.

However, as Sheila and William approach the door of Friday’s apartment, she wishes aloud that 1946 had never happened at all, that she could relive it avoiding all the pitfalls that made it such a rotten year for her—and, in fact, for William. She turns on the stairs to discover that William is no longer with her.

And, speaking moments later with a bewildered Friday, she slowly begins to cotton on to the fact that the new year that’s just beginning isn’t 1947 after all: it’s 1946. Just as she wished for, she’s been given the chance to relive the year.

John Friday (Tom Conway) is bewildered by Sheila’s claims that it’s 1947.

What errors will she avoid making? For one, she’ll Continue reading

A Gun for Christmas (1952 TVM)

vt The Big .22 Rifle for Christmas
US / 26 minutes / bw / Mark VII, NBC Dir: Jack Webb Pr: Michael Meshekoff Scr: James Moser, Jack Webb Cine: Edward Colman Cast: Jack Webb, Herbert Ellis, Wm. Johnstone, June Whitley, Sammy Ogg, Virginia Christine, Rennie McEvoy, Olan Soulé, George Fenneman (voiceover), Hal Gibney (voiceover).

Ladies and gentlemen, the story you’re about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

The series opening (voiced by George Fenneman) is famous; for the even better-known radio series upon which Dragnet’s TV incarnation is based, it was of course “the story you are about to hear.” Both series can trace their origins to Alfred Werker’s HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1948).

Jack Webb as Sergeant Joe Friday.

For this particular episode (season 2, episode 7, first aired December 18 1952), Jack Webb, in his role as Sergeant Joe Friday of the LAPD, adds a voiceover that wastes no time in getting us into the Christmas spirit:

This is the city. All year around it wears work clothes. On holidays it dresses up. To most people, Christmas brings happiness and prayer. To some it brings heartbreak. Then my job gets tougher. I’m a cop.

Admit it. You’re starting to feel that festive glow of good cheer already. But don’t relax too much into Continue reading